To earn an MDiv the Association of Theological Schools (the accrediting body of seminaries and divinity schools) requires that students complete two internships, called field education assignments. It depends on where you go but these are broken down as either two summer placements (10 weeks at 35 hours a week) or a summer and a year long placement (year long is both semesters at 10-15 hours a week). At Princeton Theological Seminary we are required to do one summer and one year long internship.
Field ed is exhausting, especially when there are young children in the mix of your life. It’s a major time drain. If you know about field ed, and provide primary care for young children, then it actually may be something holding you back from seminary. After all, basically what this means is that you need to be a full-time parent, a full-time student, work on your studies with a quarter of the time of your non-breeding colleagues, and then add on a part-time work position. Sounds awesome, right?
But there are ways to make field ed work. First, as always, talk to other parents (especially mothers) who have negotiated with the field ed office. Try to do this before choosing the seminary so you can make sure it’s going to work. My sense is that most offices want to work for you. Second, be upfront about your limitations and if you’re adviser isn’t responding well, ask for a new adviser.
For a year-long placement look for churches and organizations that keep most of their work to one or two days a week. If you can bust out 7 hours at a church on a Sunday, and do three hours of prep from home, you’re golden. Sadly, I’d recommend staying away from youth and college ministry, unless your working in the university’s chaplaincy office or at university chapel. I did my field ed (and loved it) with college ministry at Princeton, but the expectation from students (and the effective way to do ministry with them) is full-on presence – at their games, their recitals, their band gigs. Sometimes the best moments of ministry happen over coffee at 2 am. And I as never able to have coffee at 2 am. I definitely felt like my firm boundaries made it difficult to minister in the way I would have liked.
At the same time, don’t give up on the possibility of a really kick-ass field ed. I went into the office this spring expecting to be doing VBS at a Presbyterian church in Princeton for the whole summer. Instead, I’m at a great Mennonite church in Philly working as a generalist so I get to see all parts of church life. It’s been a wonderful fit and the field ed office helped make it work. For one, you can get a lot of hours from doing a mission trip, conference or convention. I also asked the office if I could make my field ed a few weeks longer so that I could work fewer hours during the week. That means I commute one less day a week, which makes a big difference.
A couple other notes. Your denomination may require or you may desire to do CPE. Clinical pastoral education usually requires you to work at a hospital and be on call, but not always. I know a couple people who have worked in clinical programs for people with intellectual disabilities and have found the hours very flexible. Others have simply told their CPE adviser their situation and they have made the process more accommodating. The other note is that some places (Duke Divinity School) assign you to field ed. In these situations be especially proactive and share your limitations and requirements in person (not just on a form) with the field ed office.
Like all things in seminary having young children requires endurance, creativity, forethought and a re-channeling of one’s expectations. But it is doable and there are lots of people who can help to make it work.